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An attempted explanation, brief revisions and odd memories from this fantastical, improbable chapter of my life December 31, 2006

Posted by Nima in Africa, Bamako, Canada World Youth, Mali, Uncategorized.
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Now, first the explanation; Why exactly keep a blog if you’re going to write once every 3 months? Well, surely I would’ve liked to have written in this space more often in Mali but that was severely limited by lack of internet access and electricity in general…but that’s not the whole story.

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Mali v. Togo madness December 31, 2006

Posted by Nima in Uncategorized.
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Greetings Folks- I’m sorry for not updating for the last 3 months or so, but I’ll explain in the next post. I’m currently in France near the Atlantic Coast city of La Rochelle where my sister lives for the holidays and remebered my promise to fill you in on my travails before New Year’s. So first a message I had written a long time ago and never got around to posting.

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The Mali/ Togo match was simply the most stunning sporting event I have ever seen, which had nothing to do with the magnitude of the game itself (an early round qualifier for the 2008 African Cup), but the emotions and sights and sounds of the sheer mayhem of that day. Mali sought to avenge last year’s loss to their arch-rivals, and every time you would ask a Malian about the game they would instantly burst into hysterics. “ Oh they played horribly that day! They were a disgrace to our country! And to TOGO? Little Togo? Are you kidding me!?”


There was such intense rioting after that game that the Malian team couldn’t leave the stadium until 1:00 a.m. Perhaps this should of worried us, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of seeing such an anticipated game.
 
The streets of Bamako leading to the stadium were closed by mid-afternoon to prevent overcrowding, so we arrived several hours early as about 50,000 fans filed into Stade 26 Mars, so named for the date of the 1991 coup d’État that overthrew dictator Moussa Traoré, who ruled Mali for 23 years.
 
The crowd was absolutely wild; chanting, screaming, singing songs…and that was during the warm-up. The game started several hours later than normal to account for the Ramadan fast; at sundown  thousands got up from their seats, gulped plastic bags of water to quench their thirst and prayed for a convincing Malian victory. (While I waved my Malian flag instead) Also, the presence of several hundred riot police around the grounds added a special ambiance to the proceedings. (Side-note- Of the 50,000 in attendance, about 12 were women)
 
The home team dominated play from the start, coming very close to scoring a half dozen times, but the game remained scoreless late into the second half. At this point fans started growing more restless, heckling longer and louder and, as Togo brought the ball dangerously into Malian territory, that’s when I wondered for the first time what would actually happen if Togo were to score; and that very instant, at the 90th minute, they came very, very close to doing just that, and everyone in the stadium held its breath (I have a feeling the Canadians a few seconds longer), but alas, the strike was mercifully turned aside by the Malian keeper.
 
That’s when our driver decided to mention that even if the game were to end in a tie, “They’ll probably still riot.” Oh, good.
 
(Quick backtrack- In the Paris airport, on our way to Bamako, the Malians had bumped into Dramane Traoré, a player on the national team who plays in Moscow. It was quite an event, and they took pictures, chatted…anyway…)
 
In the 94th minute, at virtually the last possible second of the game, on a harmless looking attack, who do you think scores for Mali? That’s right, M. Traoré himself.
 
The crowd absolutely erupted into a piercing, disorienting decibel of jubilation, causing several riot police to drop their cigarettes and look menacing. From there the crowd never really calmed back down, and things got a bit frenzied – everyone dancing and hugging and shaking hands, bags of water splashed in the air, home-made fireworks popped right next to our ears, as fans streamed towards the exits.
 
The scene in the parking lot was of even grander mayhem, with occasional cars and scooters speeding down the middle of the mass of thousands, who continued dancing and celebrating. When we eventually did take to the road, the festivities grew more intense; thousands of people filled the streets (for this the women were all out), people were dancing on speeding cars, and many tried to hop on our car as our driver negotiated through remarkably narrow spaces, chains of people surrounding both sides for kilometres.
 
It was a tremendous outpouring of joy, and while we chanted and waved our flags as well, we were wondering how exactly we were going to make it back to Nossombougou through all of this. After several hours of delicate driving through some crazy partying, we eventually hit empty roadways that lead back to our village; and the instant the sounds of singing and screaming faded into the darkness…. we all just laughed uncontrollably. 
 
Because it all seemed so surreal, not just to believe that any of this had happened, that it wasn’t a dream or a romanticized vision from an escapist novel, but that we had actually lived it.
 
Which is much like my entire Malian experience…